I am a terrible liar. This is not a confession that I lied about anything. It’s an admission that I completely suck at lying. It’s a social skill to be able to lie easily and well when the conditions of the world dictate a lie as the proper and just response.
“The check is in the mail. That dress makes you look skinny. The traffic was terrible, which is why I am late. You haven’t aged a bit. That tattoo looks great on you.”
No. No. No. And no. We don’t have the money to pay rent yet, so I stuck the check in an envelope and even put a stamp on it. In that very technical sense, it is in the mail. We just want to continue living here until money shows up somehow in our account like Manna from the sky…You shouldn’t wear that dress because it is tight in all the wrong places and loose in all the good ones…Traffic was just fine. My ability to remember to get up and go to work is what is terrible….You have aged horribly. We all have. It’s just what time does. Horrible things… And finally, no tattoo looks great on anybody after the buzz wears off. They should all remain covered up. The best tattoo is under the sole of your left foot. And you should always wear a sock on that foot, even in the bathtub just in case someone wanders in to use the toilet.
Some people are born liars, masters at half-truths and utter deceptions. When someone often begins a sentence with, “To tell you the truth,” I begin to wonder if everything else they’ve told me that didn’t start with that phrase is a horrible lie “to be quite honest.” When someone needs to tell me a hard truth, they say, “Let me level with you.” It’s obvious everything until that point has all been a big crooked lie.
If someone starts a sentence with, “As a matter of fact,” I feel like maybe they live in an imaginary world and have just collided with reality. “As a matter of fact, I just learned fairies do not exist.” Welcome to reality. Glad you could come. We’ve been expecting you for some time.
It subtracts all the ambiguity and nuance out of a social interaction to just tell the plain truth. It’s a social handicap. A strange awkwardness ensues when the truth is in session at all times. I left an art show last night in Chelsea. I didn’t say I had a pressing engagement in another part of New York City. I tried to convey an honest sense that I was simply worn out and needed to go, which I was and did.
I could have been more brutally honest and said, “This party will be better off without me and could only suffer from my continued presence.” I didn’t say that. Nor did I say, “I have to go now for the good of everyone here.” That would have obligated everyone to argue that, no, it couldn’t be better for everyone if I left. Even though I know for a fact it was.
I know there is too much of a good thing when it comes to the truth. I have learned to temper my truthful tendencies with mercy for everyone, including me. Being truthful is easy. Being kind and truthful is a struggle, but you have to make the attempt.
My 15-year-old son Avery is cut from the cloth of the truth. He is that most literal of truth tellers who sees no benefit in the white lie, half truth or tempered truth at any time. He calls a thing what it is just as he sees it. When Robyn asks me how an outfit makes her look, she can sense my hesitation as I form a proper response if it does not flatter her. She has already changed into something else before I can come up with something to say sometimes.
She knows better than to ask Avery what he thinks. Not only will he quickly blurt something he truly feels in that moment, which may not be kind. He also has no fashion sense as some children are born color blind. I have a tiny fledgling fashion sense that is kept in a pot by the window in our living room in hopes that it may one day bloom into an actual instinct for knowing just what to wear to important events such as work.
Avery and I are at an unimportant and fun event this summer in which several streets in Manhattan have been blocked off. Games are being played. Music is happening. All great fun. A woman is on a stage before us playing the accordion. She’s playing modern rock songs on her accordion, a thing I love to hear. An instrument considered corny and polka-driven even in the late 1950s is producing something modern and fun.
When she is done playing, she goes over to the area where Avery and I had been sitting listening to the concert. She starts packing up her instrument. I tell her how much I enjoy her playing.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Avery blurts in a very offhand direct assessment. It’s clear that his expectation had been for horribleness when what he heard has only been mildly annoying. I am mortified. The accordion player has the grace to say, “Thank you” in a sincere voice. I love her a little in that moment.
It’s a feeling that blooms of an instant and goes nowhere at all, born of an inconvenient truth and the most tactful response possible.
He was nowhere near this kind when he was six years old sitting in a prayer circle with five other children in a Presbyterian Church in Ocala, Florida as a man demonstrated his bagpipe. Avery covered his ears with both hands during the playing. “Why do you want to make such horrible noise?” he asked when it stopped.
The man tried to recover. “The bagpipe isn’t for everybody,” he explained. Avery nodded vigorously. The congregation roared with laughter. My wife and I tried to disappear from our seats. It didn’t work, as it always doesn’t.
I tell this story to the accordion player. She tells us that she ran into a bagpipe player in the subway. When she is not performing on a stage, she is performing under the street in the subway on the F train platform many days of the week. The bagpipe player thought they should perform together since their instruments are often hated on sight by wary commuters. She gave it a go, but it just wasn’t working for her.
“The bagpipe sounds horrible,” she said. “It’s a low wailing thing, like a banshee screaming.”
Avery nodded vigorously. This woman really got it. Spoke his language. A soul sister in the inconvenient truth.